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[CAIRO] A network for women researchers was launched last week in Salmania, Bahrain, to promote gender equality in scientific programmes and institutions in the Arab world.

Speaking to SciDev.Net, Hoda Rashad, who chairs the training, education and scientific research committee at Egypt's National Council For Women, said the network would be very important in promoting Arab women's access to careers in science and technology, and in correcting the gender imbalance in science that is present to varying degrees in Arab countries.

Arab women are often excluded from participating in scientific and technological activities, and those that do tend to progress in their careers more slowly than men.

In Egypt, women represent more than one-third of the scientific community, and hold 35-50 per cent of postgraduate positions in Egyptian universities, but occupy just two per cent of high-level positions in science, said Rashad.

According to Rafiaa Gubash, president of Bahrain's Arabian Gulf University and the first Arab woman head of a university in the region, the primary aim of the Arab Network of Women in Science and Technology will be to correct this imbalance.

It will help Arab women participate in the region's development of science and technology as research group leaders, scientists and technologists, and will encourage Arab and international organisations to promote scientific and technological training for women.

The network will also set up a database of Arab women scientists detailing their contact information and research interests, and will circulate information about jobs, training and other research opportunities for women among its members.

The Salmania launch meeting was organised by the Arabian Gulf University, which will fund the network, in collaboration with Egypt-based Arab Woman Organization, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the Morocco-based Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Tunisia-based Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization.

The meeting was attended by leading Arab women in science including Amr Azzooz, head of UNESCO's office in Cairo, Egypt, and Farkhanda Hassan, general secretary of Egypt's National Council for Women.

Establishing an international network of women scientists was one of the recommendations of the World Conference on Science, held in Budapest, Hungary, in 1999. At a meeting in Cairo, in September 2003, the Arabian Gulf University proposed taking responsibility for creating the network of women scientists in the Arab world.